In May 1949, London's first ten-storey council housing block was opened in Holborn. In the 50 years since 1949, around 2,700 tower blocks have been built in Greater London. At the end of the 20th century, London had more multi-storey housing blocks than any other British city. It had the highest council tower block in Europe: the 31-storey Trellick Tower in Kensington, and the highest private tower block: the 43-storey Shakespeare Tower in the Barbican.
London's tower blocks have led the way nationally, during their period of popularity and their fall from favour. In the 1950s, the London County Council pioneered the construction of multi-storey blocks of flats and maisonettes as part of the post-war housing drive.
The rise and fall of London's tower blocks can be traced from the 1940s, starting with the national drive to build more homes as part of a better future for Britain. In 1943, The County of London Plan recommended high-rise housing, and in 1949 London's first ten-storey housing block opened in Holborn, Camden.
In 1953 London County Council built its first experimental 11-storey point block at the Ackroyden Estate in Richmond. In 1955, the council's Loughborough Estate in Lambeth pioneered maisonette slab blocks.
During the 1960s, new 'system build' construction methods were introduced and heights rose to 27 storeys. In 1965, Local government reorganisation injected new drive into London's slum clearance and re-housing programmes. However in May 1968, a corner of Ronan Point, a 22-storey tower in Canning Town collapsed, killing five people and injuring 17. The Ronan Point disaster acted as catalyst for the anti-tower block backlash.
In the 1970s heights rose to 43 storeys, but high-rise building came to a halt as serious doubts were thrown on construction methods. On the Barbican Estate in the City of London, the highest tower in Europe was completed in 1972, but by the mid-1970s, public opinion had turned against tower blocks.
In the 1980s, council towers began to be demolished and private towers started to appear. Hackney Council blew up its first tower block in 1985 - though it failed to collapse completely. The Cascades development in Docklands (Tower Hamlets), built in 1987, was London's first high-rise private housing project.
By the 1990s, tower blocks had acquired a new lease of life. In 1993 Keeling House (Tower Hamlets) became the first tower block to be listed as being of architectural importance. By 1998, new high-rise luxury housing towers were appearing along both banks of the Thames.
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